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Nov. 12, 2013

Special Report: The Importance of Analyzing Utility Data

By Jessica Fiur, Senior Editor

New York—Do you know which of your properties is the biggest energy hog? In a recent webinar titled “Unlocking the Value of Utility Analytics, Benchmarking and Big Data,” panelists Shveta Oak, product manager for utility smart at NWP; Kent McDonald, director of utility management at NWP; and DeeAnne McClenahan, senior director—procurement and sustainability at Greystar Real Estate Partners, discuss the importance of analyzing utility data to reduce costs throughout apartment communities.

“According to the EPA, more than 30 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings, including multifamily, is inefficient or unnecessary,” McDonald said.

In order to best reduce energy consumption, when you begin looking at your utility analytics, make sure you’re looking at uniform data. “One of the challenges of benchmarking is making sure you’re not comparing apples to oranges,” Oak said. According to Oak, you should review all your data using a standard measurement. Additionally, limit your requirements to avoid a too-limited search field.

“Too many filters will lead you to have not enough properties to measure,” McDonald said.

When narrowing what you’re going to be benchmarking, McDonald suggested looking at three filters. “The first one is geographic area; the second one is whether it is residential, retail or office tenants present in the buildings that you’re comparing; and third is to consider the physical aspects—are you comparing a high-rise to a garden-style apartment, for example?” he said.

You should already have a lot of data at your fingertips.

“Start with whatever you have,” McClenahan said. “There are reports that work for you and reports that don’t.”

The most important thing to do when you’re benchmarking data is to dig deep.

“Ask lots of questions,” McDonald said. “The first question to ask is, ‘How do my properties in this area compare to my competitor’s in this area?’”

So, on average, what are the major energy guzzlers at apartment communities?

“In general, water and sewer make up the larger portion of utility costs, followed by electricity, and then natural gas,” Oak says. “Recognizing who the energy and water hogs are will help prioritize your energy action plan.”

According to Oak, once you figure out what is responsible for your biggest energy costs, there are two areas to enact possible change: physical changes that could be made to the asset and behavioral changes that residents could make. However, the latter is harder to monitor.

“Residents might not be receptive to contributing to energy conservation, especially if there isn’t an obvious impact to them financially,” Oak said.

Oak recommended some “low-hanging fruit” that could be easily fixed to ease energy consumption at properties.

“Irrigation can be one of the biggest water users at a property, and a lot of times it isn’t managed well,” she said. Therefore, keeping an eye on sprinklers, etc., could be a simple way to reduce energy bills. Additionally, Oak said “most in-unit water is used in toilets, showers and faucets. Managing this can be achieved by using low-flow showerheads and efficient toilets.”

Though it might be difficult to get buy-in from residents, it might prove to be necessary in order to lower costs.

“Consumption needs to go down to stay on budget,” McClenahan said.

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